Using branding to create shared value.

There are a small number of leading companies that are way beyond strategies to acquire a ‘social license to operate’ or a need to demonstrate ‘corporate social responsibility’.

These companies know that the brand itself, its ability to unite and motivate people, can be a powerful force for social change. They are branding to create shared value: business returns and societal improvement.

Like the leading team in a Tour de France peloton, the company brand, equipment, expertise and investment all contribute to overcoming superhuman physical  challenge.

Everyday people – the people who buy, sell, converse and organise around their interests – do not trust the media, politicians or business leaders to speak the truth. In fact, I’d go as far to say that the ‘discipline’ of ‘reputation management’ is not only smelly, it’s dead.

Let’s go back to basics. People buy a product or service, or adopt a policy or process, because it has a functional and emotional benefit. Sometimes emotion dominates: a response to fear or a desire for inspiration. At other times it’s the function that simply solves a problem or solves it faster and more durably than other options.

What we buy says something about us. The transaction sees our identity overlap with that of the product/service and the company providing it. I’m all about value, I buy Dell. I’m about style and performance, I buy Apple.

But, more and more, our dinner table conversations, our social media feeds and our mainstream media content is filled with moral challenge. Almost every person living in Western societies considers a range of product and company attributes absent in decision making just 20 years ago. Nutritional value (packaged food), environmental impact (cars), humanitarian impact (clothing), wage levels and conditions (retailers)… the list goes on.

So, brand managers are seriously looking at how to make social purpose a brand association or identity element. The data of every major consumer research institution is saying the same thing: people expect the creation of shared value.

It is in place branding work we get the best queues for this: you need substance and tangible actions to make social purpose claims. A cultural centre has to have theatres and innovative arts companies. Just one will do. But an undeniable inspiration must exist.

So don’t go to the PR guys first. Don’t manufacture purpose.

Analyse the human dimensions of everyday business outcomes and discover where impact is positive or negative. Then build on it.

“A purposeful, well activated company brand can be a powerful force for good.”

Here’s an overview of our model for branding to create shared value.

We apply a progressive process called ‘IDEA’ – Investigate, Develop, Engage and Account.


1. Consider company competencies

  • What expertise, customer access and reach, intellectual property, knowledge, data, technology, geographic presence, physical assets, brand equity and associations etc. does the company have?
  • What is the company’s social impact via its operations now? Consider the multiple impacts of systems, relationships, products, services, investments, contracts etc. (See our Social Thinking model)

2. Consider consumer needs, likes and social influences

  • How is the company addressing (or not addressing) consumer needs?
  • What are consumers looking for in their experience with the product and company?
  • What does their world look, sound and feel like?
  • What social issues matter most to them and their key influencers: family, colleagues, advisors and social networks?

3. Consider market, economic and geographical context

  • What strategies, actions and statements are competitors making? Are they placing purpose in branding?
  • Where is the disruption coming from and at what points is it hitting the company?
  • What are the economic forces affecting the company, its competitors and its consumers – now, and into the future?

4. Consider social issues and challenges (social context)

  • Which social issues are affecting company employees, suppliers, partners and geographically defined markets?
  • Which social issues are the company most able to address with its particular competencies?
  • Which relationships does/can the company have with social sector organisations to augment its competencies?
  • Which institutions and opinion leaders are driving social agendas?
  • Which social agendas can the company’s brand identity and relationships enable it to lead?


Map each of the four investigation areas against one another, determining where the opportunities are for the company to:

  • Evolve the brand identity to address the purpose-related aspects of the relationship consumers and their influencers are seeking through brand experience (e.g. empowerment, altruism, partnership etc.).
  • Articulate the company’s social purpose and the measurable social impacts it is achieving in a redefined vision and value proposition.
  • Develop a business case/strategy with multiple business return objectives and attributable metrics related to social outcomes.
  • Engage experts, consumer representatives and social sector organisations in co-creation and co-design of initiatives that have a positive impact on communities, at scale.
  • Develop a shared value platform for shared research, communication and problem solving with employees, suppliers, consumers and stakeholders.
  • Design a benchmark brand perception study that links perception to substance and is undertaken at regular intervals via the shared value platform.


  • Engage an independent facilitator who has the social focus, business knowledge, reputation and, most importantly, practical problem solving and issues management experience to connect and steer all stakeholders.
  • Ensure the CEO or business unit manager is active in the company’s social agenda development, and understands the nuances of this new type of relationship: shared objectives, shared outcomes.
  • Embed shared value strategy in broader reporting
  • Provide training and coaching at relevant levels of intensity for all employees.
  • Measure, assess, strategize, plan and communicate at regular but meaningful milestones. Enjoy the liberation of honest dialogue with society: ‘this is new ground, and we are one contributor to the achievement of the higher purpose’.
  • Seek independent platforms such as the Shared Value Project through which to provide updates and seek structured input.


  • Apply analytics, review, report, refine.
  • Address challenges quickly and collaboratively

This is not abstract.

Ellis Jones and other consultancies globally are working with leading companies on each and every one of the areas outlined above. The process can seem large, overwhelming, but so to is the momentum for change. Start the Investigation process now and find a pace of change that works for your company.

Branding to create shared value does not start with reputation. It starts with broadening your understanding of consumer and stakeholder expectations, and considering the role your brand and operations can profitably play in a better society.

Join the peloton.

Talk to us.

Image credit: via Flickr Creative Commons